On March 15 last year Husna Ahmed was killed at the Al Noor mosque during the Christchurch terror attack. Her husband Farid Ahmed managed to escape and survive. Over the last year he has had to learn how to navigate life without his beloved wife. He has penned a book about his experience - which is also a tribute to his wife and carries his enduring message of forgiveness. The book, published by Allen & Unwin, goes on sale on Tuesday and Ahmed is donating all royalties from sales to St John Ambulance. The extract below has been abridged.
The pain I felt when I learned, at last, that my wife had been killed hit me like a wall of wind.
The force of it threw me off balance, so that my head started to spin and I worried I might topple out of my wheelchair.
If I fell, how far would I fall? Would a bottomless hole of darkness open up beneath me, a vacuum powerful enough to pull me in then keep me tumbling within it for eternity?
I held tight to the armrests of my chair, desperately trying to keep steady, while the whole world around me rocked and swayed.
There was only one person who could have restored my balance, and that person was suddenly no longer there: Husna.
My wife was my strongest, most steadfast support, a stable point in the turbulence, but she had been taken from me right at the moment when I needed her more desperately than ever.
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Where she had been just hours earlier, an emptiness now loomed, horrifying and immense, and it was consuming me.
My hope, that tentative flame which had somehow stayed alight through all of the horror and sorrow I had witnessed, burned down to one lonely ember.
There it glowed then faded, fluttering on the end of a burned and blackened wick. It was barely there.
I fought to fan it, to bring back even the faintest spark of brightness, but the darkness was overwhelming. It engulfed me and all of my happiness.
I blinked my eyes frantically, trying to see, but it was futile. Everything was black.
My mind could not grapple with the truth. It was too big, too devastating, and even as it enveloped me I struggled against it.
It pressed in on me from all sides. I felt as if the entire sky had sunk down upon me and was driving me deeper, deeper, deeper.
The weight of it crushed my lungs, and as it squeezed out my breath it also stole my words.
The whole world narrowed. It was terrifying.
Beneath this burden, my heart finally crumbled.
It disintegrated like a desiccated husk and dispersed on the wind that had thrown my whole world off kilter.
I saw the pieces of it flying away from me, fragile and dry. Gone.
I desperately fumbled for a way through the darkness, but my brain was numb. It would not respond.
I felt so vulnerable in those moments.
All of the awful things that I had seen since hearing that first burst of gunfire made me think more was coming.
My hope died, and with it my capacity to be brave.
The shock overwhelmed me so totally that I became convinced my body would give up and stop, that my own death was imminent.
Everything began to move fast — too fast.
I realised I was in shock. I did not know how I was going to cope, but I knew that I had to find a way.
Somehow, in the depths of my despair, I understood that the only real source of comfort for me lay in my God Allah. I could have screamed, or cried, or wailed, but I did none of those things.
Even as grief overtook me, I realised that showing my pain would only cause others to suffer more, and I did not want that.
So, instead, I meditated. I applied my mental strength to calling silently for divine guidance, and I surrendered my mind to Allah.
I begged for His help.
Immediately I began to feel more stable. I could see my hope begin to glimmer again, a pinprick in the darkness that cloaked me.
It was slowly growing, restoring the brightness and colour to my world.
But, as my anxieties calmed, a question rose in my mind.
My wife had always been there for me. After my accident, it was Husna who had cared for me. If she wasn't here, who would look after me?
I needed not worry. Allah would help me. He would take care of me, as He cares for all of His creations.
With that divine guidance, my strength returned.
The world stopped rocking, and my balance was restored.
My mind freed itself from the incapacitating burden of my grief and, although I was still full of sorrow, I was able to think clearly.
The feeling that I was in imminent danger dissipated and, through the power of my faith, I found the courage to keep going.
It was what I had to do.
Yes, my lovely wife, my other half, was gone.
I would not see Husna again in this world, but that did not mean the world had ended.
I was still here, still alive, and I therefore had a duty to continue the work that Husna and I had done together, even if that meant doing it alone.
I TURNED TO MY FIRST DUTY: telling Farhana what had happened to her aunty.
While I had taken the call from the police officer who had seen Husna, Farhana had been watching me, but I didn't think she had guessed what we were talking about.
She still believed we would find Husna. I had to tell her the truth.
For many years, as a teacher, I have taught people about patience, but this was the first time that I was truly called upon to put those teachings into practice.
Summoning my inner strength, I focused on remaining composed. I did not want to break down in front of others.
I wanted to be in control of my actions, to not let my circumstances control me.
I did not want to offload my internal suffering on to those who were already burdened with their own woes.
I turned to Farhana, and I said calmly, "Husna is dead."
"No," she said.
She did not believe me.
Perhaps she was suspicious of my calmness. Perhaps she simply did not want to believe what was true.
"Be patient," I said. "Husna is dead."
Farhana crumpled before me, crying uncontrollably.
Within moments, people near us had noticed and were looking our way.
In my desire to keep myself calm, I had forgotten that others might not be able to contain their own emotions in the same way as I tried to.
I completely understood Farhana's distress, but it also pierced the fortification I had carefully built around myself.
I had not wanted to make a scene. I simply wanted to leave quietly, before anyone else learned what had happened to Husna.
I did not want any attention — no hugs, no condolences, no tears.
I wanted to leave this street and return home, so that I could deal with my problems patiently and on my own.
But Farhana's distraught sobs made that an impossibility.
The news was revealed, as Allah willed it to be.
We were not meant to hide it — not from those who were gathered around us, nor from the media.
My wife became the first victim confirmed to those of us waiting out there on Deans Avenue.
Now people wanted to talk to me, to hug me, to share their emotions with me.
I focused on staying calm, hoping that by showing my own strength I might encourage them to also be courageous.
Somehow, I managed to smile, even though it was a dry and empty expression.
"Whatever has happened has happened," I said over and over.
"Now, we must face the challenges with courage."
I needed to speak to Ayesha [Husna's sister-on-law]. She was still waiting outside my daughter's school.
I did not want Ayesha to cry like Farhana, so I approached things differently.
I had learned my lesson.
"Listen," I said, calmly and firmly, when Ayesha answered the phone.
"You must control yourself. Husna is dead. We must be strong for my daughter."
It was clear that Ayesha was utterly shattered, but she remained composed.
"I shall follow your guidance," she said.
Relief washed over me. If Ayesha had broken down, I know my daughter would have done so too.
"Please do not tell Shifa anything yet," I said.
"Just bring her home."
I wanted to be the one to tell Shifa what had happened to her mother.
It was my duty, as her loving father, to do so.
I HAD TO GO HOME, and I wanted to get there before my daughter did - but, of course, that was easier desired than done.
First, I asked a nearby police officer if there might be any chance of getting my car back. He shook his head sadly. "No, I'm sorry."
It was part of the crime scene. It wasn't going anywhere.
So Farhana and another young man took me home.
It was a very difficult journey.
From time to time, I said what I could to console Husna's niece. In the process, I was trying to console myself.
I did not want to be silent, because I worried that silence would only exacerbate our shared pain.
As Farhana's tears flowed, I fought hard to contain my own.
I wanted to cry, could feel the pressure building up inside me.
All my grief was wedged in my throat, but I knew that I must keep it there. For my daughter's sake, I could not allow myself to cry, not yet.
I am not a quiet or a demure crier — when I do cry, my sobs rack my whole body, and the marks of my grief remain in my reddened eyes long after the tears have dried.
If Shifa saw the signs that I had been crying, it would cause her to cry too.
I also held my tears in for Farhana's sake. She was already crying a lot, and I thought that if I cried it might just increase her despair.
I did not want her to exhaust herself any further — she needed to save her energy for the troubled road ahead.
Many obstacles now lay before us. Things were not going to get easier from this point.
Finally, I did not cry because I wanted to keep my promise to Allah. I would be patient, and await His help and mercy.
I would not complain. I knew that crying out of love would be acceptable, but even so I did not want to do that.
I saw this as another test, one of the hardest imaginable, and I was determined to pass it.
ARRIVING HOME WITHOUT MY WIFE was very upsetting.
Just that morning we had left together, and now I was returning alone.
Husna would never come home with me again.
The reality of this sank in as I wheeled myself inside our house.
Questions floated through my brain like clouds across the sky — questions that did not demand answers, questions that I did not like.
They all picked and pulled at what had happened, trying to weave the truth into alternative scenarios.
Why was it me who had come home, and not Husna?
Why had I survived, while my wife had been killed?
Why was I the one fated to return to our home with a broken heart?
Would it not have been better if things had been the other way round? Shouldn't Husna have survived to care for our daughter, rather than me?
What would have happened to Shifa if we had both been killed?
I did not want to indulge these questions. They all unlocked the door to what if ... ? and that was a place full of pain in many forms — guilt, frustration, blame, depression, hopelessness.
I did not want to go there. I knew there was no end to those questions, and they would only make me suffer more.
HUSNA ALWAYS USED TO CALL me "Softie" whenever it came to anything regarding our daughter, and she was quite right.
If there's ever anything that Shifa needs, I am a big softie.
Indeed, my heart is soft when it comes to any person — that's what enables me to be compassionate to my human brothers and sisters, but it's also the thing that causes me pain on behalf of others.
As I sat at home, waiting for Shifa to return from school, I searched desperately for a way to deliver the tragic news about her mother so that it would not cause her pain — but, of course, no such way existed.
Just the thought of the words I would have to speak cut through me like a knife.
As I battled with the words, I realised they were not the problem; the issue lay with the message they carried, and there was nothing I could do to change that.
The one thing I did not want to do was to burst into tears or break down in front of Shifa.
I knew that would only exacerbate her grief.
The task felt insurmountable — I was worried that it was more than my heart could bear, and that I might not be capable of getting the words out.
I was extremely concerned about my daughter's well-being, and had no idea how she might react to such terrible, unwanted news.
I did not know if she would be able to handle such an unwelcome truth.
Would she break down?
How would the scars of this tragedy affect her in the long term?
How would she live without her dear mother?
I was painfully aware of how young my daughter was to lose her mother — and she had lost her in the worst, most sudden way imaginable.
She would never have her mother hug her again,or pick her up from school, or tell her "yes, I do love you, pakhi".
How could Shifa possibly cope with it all?
I could not stop my mind from imagining the very worst.
Of course, the one person I desperately wanted to talk to about this was also the person whose very absence lay at the root of it all: Husna.
My lovely wife was the only person with whom I shared all of my worries, and now she was not here to help me navigate the most difficult of them.
It was a truly awful time for me, and my soul was caught in a dark and terrifying struggle.
SHIFA, JUST LIKE HER MOTHER, is full of smiles.
She greets the world with a calmness and love that brings peace to those around her.
I know my daughter's face so well — I spent many years, while she was very young, gazing down at her smile while she sat in my lap or played around my wheelchair.
She has always reserved a special brightness for the moments when she spots me or Husna and her eyes connect with ours.
But I have never seen her face look the way it did when she came home that afternoon of Friday 15 March. I hope I never see it that way again.
A grim shadow of anxiety had slipped over her usually pleasant expression, and every feature told of the turmoil she felt within.
She was anxious — so incredibly anxious.
It broke my heart.
I was waiting for her at our front door, and she rushed towards me like a storm.
Normally, she waves and smiles when she sees me, but there was no room for either gesture on this day.
It was as though she had no mood.
She hurtled towards me, drawn by the urgent desire to hear what I had to say — Ayesha, true to her word, had not said a thing.
Perhaps my daughter hoped that my words would set her fears to rest, restore her peace of mind, but it was clear that she knew something was terribly wrong.
She ran to me like a child who is lost and has just found her father, but is still searching for her mother.
"Where is Mum?" she asked immediately.
"She is with Allah," I replied without hesitation, and I put one arm round my daughter.
Shifa knew what my words meant.
I did not lie, but I could not bear the blunt force of saying that Husna had been killed.
That would have been too painful for both of us.
Without my faith, I do not know how I ever would have had the strength to answer such
Then my daughter said, "Are you telling me that I no longer have a mother?"
"Yes." It was all I could say. I wish I could have found smoother words, but there were none.
Shifa began to cry.
I was still holding her, and I could feel the force of the grief that was contained within her.
I held on to her as tightly as I could, as much for my own comfort as for hers.
I knew she was struggling against the truth, didn't want to accept it.
"You must be lying," she said.
"Your dad does not lie."
Then, as the full force of it hit her, she in turn hit me.
"You must be lying!" she said again.
"I don't believe what you are saying! Let me go! I don't want to be here."
She was just 15 years old. Of course this was how she reacted.
Her response was natural. I knew she needed time.
"Where will you go?" I asked.
"To my room," she replied. She was crying, but she was not hysterical.
I could feel the pain in her heart as though it were my own.
"OK," I said. "But, please, call me for anything that you need. And never forget that I love you."
AS SOON AS SHIFA DISAPPEARED into her room, a steady flow of visitors into and out of our house began.
Some arrived at our home crying. Some were afraid. Some were angry.
They all had questions, and they all needed consolation.
When I had first got home, I'd been welcomed by a ringing telephone. I did not want to talk to anyone, so I ignored it.
I simply wished to process my grief in private.
The phone stopped ringing ... Then it started again.
So I gave in and answered it. It was an old friend who lived in Auckland. He was crying. I saw two options before me: either cry with him, or console him. I chose the latter, for my own sake as much as for his.
When I hung up, the young man with me was also upset.
"I haven't lost anyone close to me, but I can't bear your pain," he said.
"How come you are not crying?"
Then he broke into tears, so I consoled him too.
"You are a strong man," he told me. "I wish I had your self-control."
I knew that I was not really strong.
Providing advice and consolation was my coping mechanism, and I was lucky to have
it in those hours after coming home without my wife.
There were many, many tears in our house that afternoon and into the night.
I consoled them so that I would not cry with them.
I worried that if I started I might never stop, and that my tears would only
One of our old neighbours who visited said to me, "I hate that this has happened! I wish I was not white."
She was devastated at the loss of Husna, and grappling with the consequences of one man's hate.
"You must not blame yourself for someone else's wrongful actions," I replied.
"A killer is a killer. Killing has no connection with race, skin colour, nationality or religion."
Finally, around 11pm, I asked everyone to leave.
I needed to spend time with my daughter.
We all needed to discuss how we would navigate the difficult days and weeks to come.
IN ALL THOSE HOURS, as I spoke to others, Shifa was my main concern.
I had let her go to her room so she could have some space, but I did not want to leave her alone.
Without her mother, I was all she had. She was also all I had. We needed each other.
Family was our foundation and, if we did not hold on to one another, what was left of our little family might crumble.
I wanted to be with my daughter. I wanted to talk to her so that I could understand what was going through her mind.
I wanted to share my grief with her, and for her to share hers with me. So I called her, and she came out of her room.
She was calm, and though she looked sad she was not crying.
My daughter's composure and strength were so impressive to me in that moment.
"Abbee," she said, "did I hit you when you gave me the news? I'm so sorry."
Her apology gave me such joy.
She had hit me only gently, and it was nothing compared with what she must have been feeling inside, but even so she had the self-awareness to remember it.
Here was her loving and caring nature on full display, even in the midst of her own pain.
I also saw wisdom in her calmness.
She had taken the time alone in her room to speak to her friends on the phone, to seek their help, and she had found a way to bring her painful emotions back under her control.
She was no longer letting them control her.
Seeing that she was thinking more clearly, I took the opportunity to offer her some fatherly advice.
"From now, I am your mother and your father," I said, "and you will be my daughter and my mother. We shall change our roles to adjust our lives."
I could not help shedding tears as I said these words.
I meant every one of them.
"You have lost your mother, but you have not lost your father," I went on.
"You have still got me. The worst could have happened today. Both your mother and I might have died. Let us be happy with what we have."
Shifa absorbed all of this with grace.
"I love you, Abbee," she told me, and I felt my poor, shattered heart swell.
Farid Ahmed's book Husna's Story: My wife, the Christchurch massacre & my journey to forgiveness is published by Allen & Unwin NZ and available on Tuesday 3 March.
All royalties to St John Ambulance.